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Geeks and the environment: the map of opportunity

Climate, Sustainability, Passion, Mission, SocialImpact, SpiceProgram
Risto Sarvas brainstorms on climate solutions

It’s becoming well known in our industry that working with a sense of higher purpose goes a long way not just in terms of personal fulfillment, but also in terms of success and profitability for the employing company. Find a cause worthy to you and pursue it and you’re likely to be happy and fulfilled. Enable your employees to pursue a higher cause and you’re more likely to succeed in business than your competitors.

The climate mission

There are of course many worthy missions to pursue and each company or individual with their own. In this article I’ll focus on the environment, mainly because it’s the one that I’m most passionate about.

More and more people working in IT are wondering if they or their employers could do more to help protect the environment through their daily work. Futurice is no exception: more and more people are interested in the environment cause, which is starting to catch up with usual suspects like open-source and education.

What to do, where to start?

So what can we do if we want to do something for the environment? If this is a journey we want to be taking, then what’s the itinerary? Where is the map? What opportunities should we look for, in a very concrete way? The answers are not so hard to find if we look for them.

Recently I came across Bret Victor’s excellent article, which outlined many different ways that developers, designers and business people working with tech could contribute to solving climate change problems.

One simple example is to make software that can help to harvest energy more efficiently. Another is to help re-design and optimize the energy grid so that it’s flexible and scalable enough to make large-scale clean energy usage achievable. As the author pointed out, if we were to just connect millions of household energy producers to the grid as it is now, it would simply collapse, because it wasn’t built for that type of usage. Another area with the potential for big gains is perhaps transportation of energy: we could help create the systems and algorithms that move energy around the grid in a more flexible and efficient way. And there are many more ways that we could make a huge impact: We could help design and develop better transport systems, better ways to manage vehicle fleets, we could help make our cities smarter so that the need for transport is much smaller to begin with. We could optimize our recycling systems. The list continues.


And there’s a bonus: not only are all these problems important to tackle, but they are also extremely interesting to solve! I can see many exciting design and programming challenges in all of those areas!

The tides are turning

In his article, Bret Victor was also raising the alarm as to how little attention these problems are getting compared to how much they deserve. That’s a great point and we must pay attention to it. At the same time, I choose not to read that too pessimistically. The political will is finally turning in the right direction, as can be seen from the Paris Climate Conference). The money is getting there too, more and more. We can see that from some of the projects we’ve been doing already at Futurice.

A map of opportunity

What’s most useful in the article is the brilliant map of opportunity it paints for technology experts who want to use their competences more in solving climate problems. Having this type of map makes us much more empowered to look for sustainability-driven work. It can help us look for the right customers, it can help us suggest the right type of projects. It can help us understand the impact we’re already making through some of our current projects. It can maybe drive us to do some pro-bono contributions where the money is still missing. (it could be the next part of Futurice's Spice Program)

What you focus on...

Having this kind of map can also help us focus our attention in the right place. When you focus on something, you start seeing it everywhere, even where you couldn’t notice it before. By knowing what kind of opportunities to seek out, it will be much easier to spot them, and they will start appearing in unexpected places.

The courage bit (a small detail)

Of course, we still need the courage to give it a fair try. To rise above all the doom and gloom scenarios, to pretend we forget how hard this really is and how great the odds against us. And to just go for it anyway.

So, whether you’re a digital service creator or any type of technology expert and you wish you could do more for the climate, get informed (start with Bret Victor’s article), get confident and start paying attention! You will find opportunities to help the climate cause much sooner than you think!